Cardiff City defender Steven Caulker netted two goals to help lead the Bluebirds past Fulham, 3-1. The performance doubled the England international's goal total for the Premier League campaign and earned three key points for the side, which is trying to fend off relegation.
The 22-year-old centre-back had just a pair of goals on the season coming into the fixture, but one of the previous had come against Fulham as well. Something about the matchup energizes him to move forward more aggressively and it certainly paid off today.
Caulker's first tally came a short time before the halftime whistle.
Craig Noone was seemingly going for goal, but his attempt took several deflections before finding its way onto the foot of the defender, who easily tapped it into the open net. While it was a fortuitous bounce, Caulker did well to take advantage.
As the Premier League noted, it gave the Bluebirds the 1-0 edge:
GOAL Cardiff 1-0 Fulham (45+1 mins) Captain Steven Caulker breaks the deadlock, tapping in Noone's deflected cross #CARFUL— Premier League (@premierleague) March 8, 2014
After Lewis Holtby had equalized for Fulham in the 59th minute, Caulker struck again less than 10 minutes later.
Jordon Mutch delivered a well-placed corner kick, which Caulker headed into the ground and it bounced into the net. Maarten Stekelenburg should have probably made the stop for Fulham. That said, sometimes it's hard to gauge the bounce with spin and Cardiff certainly aren't worried about style points.
Cardiff celebrated the tally that gave them the lead back:
Duncan Alexander of OptaJoe passed along an interesting stat following Caulker's second goal:
Caulker now has as many PL goals as Ozil and Torres this season.— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) March 8, 2014
An own goal by Sascha Riether made it 3-1 with about 20 minutes to play and Cardiff tightened up defensively to hold on for the win.
It was a monster performance at a crucial time for Caulker. Every point is important as they fight to stay in the Premier League and his play today ensured they were able to grab all three points instead of one or none.
Where will Cardiff end up this season?
Moving forward, the Bluebirds are going to need more outstanding individual performances like that in order to avoid finishing in the bottom three. They probably won't come from Caulker, at least in terms of offensive contributions, but other players need to step up.
Cardiff will hope to carry the momentum from the win over Fulham into a tricky road test against Everton next weekend. That's the type of match where even a draw would be a step in the right direction and a win would be a major bonus.
If Caulker can put together another strong performance, they'll at least have a chance against a Toffees squad that isn't in top form right now.